Thursday 19 October 2017

Michael Noonan: My health is fine

Minister's move reassures Cabinet ahead of Budget

Concern: Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke
Concern: Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has reassured his Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues that his latest health scare will not affect his ability to get October's Budget passed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny asked Mr Noonan for an update on his condition at a pre-Cabinet meeting of Fine Gael ministers last Tuesday after the Finance Minister was forced to take a week off work.

Cabinet sources have told the Sunday Independent that Mr Noonan, who has gone through a series of medical procedures in recent years, insisted his health would not be an issue during Budget negotiations.

A senior minister said: "Noonan came into the meeting and told us: 'I'm great and I had a good rest.'" Another Cabinet source said he told colleagues "it could be a while" before the skin condition heals and said he would continue to need treatment.

The minister was diagnosed with cellulitis - a bacterial infection which leads to redness and swelling of the skin.

Several senior ministers yesterday said Mr Noonan was in good health and was still the best-placed politician to control the country's purse strings.

Comments: Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell. Photo: David Conachy
Comments: Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell. Photo: David Conachy

Last Monday, he did not attend a significant jobs announcement in his native Limerick, leading to further speculation about his health.

But the following day, Mr Noonan made his first public appearance since his hospital stint when he gave a strong performance before the Budget Oversight Committee.

Fine Gael colleagues were buoyed by the minister's composure during the hearing, with one senior figure insisting "he kicked Pearse Doherty (Sinn Fein's finance spokesman) around the place".

At a media briefing last week, the Taoiseach said the Finance Minister has always assured him of his fitness to work after receiving medical treatment.

"He has said to me quite openly that if that wasn't the position he would inform me also and I trust him completely in that regard," Mr Kenny added.

In an interview in today's Sunday Independent, Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell insists the Taoiseach would not keep Mr Noonan as Finance Minister if he was not "the right person for the job".

She said: "It's too serious and I don't think Michael Noonan would be doing the job unless he thought he was fit for it."

The rising Fine Gael star also calls for "fresh blood" in the party's senior ranks because she believes they are "at nothing if the same gang" who ran the last election campaign remains in place.

Two weeks ago, Fine Gael colleagues noticed a swelling on the Finance Minister's face when he attended the party's annual parliamentary away day in Kildare.

In the same week, he missed a crucial Cabinet meeting where the Government's position on the controversial sale of Nama's €1.6bn Project Eagle property portfolio was discussed and agreement reached to hold a statutory inquiry.

At the meeting, the Taoiseach announced that Mr Noonan could not attend as he had suffered an insect bite in Bratislava, Slovakia, while on official State business the previous week.

However, a senior Government source yesterday said it was "impossible" to say for certain that the skin infection was a result of an insect bite.

It was also reported that Mr Noonan "took full part" in the Cabinet meeting over the telephone.

However, several ministers in attendance insisted this was not the case and rather that he had private conversations with the Taoiseach by telephone.

But a noticeable abrasion on the minister's face raised concerns among his colleagues about his health.

At the pre-Cabinet meeting, which followed the committee hearing, Mr Noonan said he was in good health and joked he had time to read four books while hospitalised. "If there was something wrong with Noonan he would tell us," a Cabinet source said.

Last Friday, he gave another strong performance when he appeared on international business television channel Bloomberg to discuss Brexit. He is also expected to appear at a jobs event in Limerick tomorrow.

Mr Noonan has experienced a number of health scares in recent years, including a five-week course of radiotherapy after a cancerous mole was removed from his shoulder in 2014. Last Christmas, he was admitted to hospital to have his lungs drained after a fluid build-up on his chest required treatment. In January 2015, he received medical treatment for an eye condition and in 2007 he underwent a heart bypass.

But he has always bounced back from his medical conditions and he is widely attributed as playing a pivotal role in bringing the country back from financial ruin after the economic crash.

The prospect of Mr Noonan stepping down after October's Budget has been raised privately within Fine Gael but last week ministers were insisting the 73-year-old politician has the strength and energy to play a key role in the Government for some time.

Ahead of the General Election, the Limerick TD said he hoped to continue as Finance Minister for two more budgets. He was reappointed by Mr Kenny following government negotiations, with Paschal Donohoe given the crucial Department of Public Expenditure and Reform portfolio.

In recent weeks, Mr Noonan has told Cabinet colleagues Mr Donohoe holds the purse strings in this Budget.

"He told us last week his bit of the Budget is only small and brief and Paschal is the man with the money to spend and he said it won't take him long to spend it," a senior minister said.

However, several ministers in attendance insisted this was not the case and rather that he had private conversations with the Taoiseach by telephone.

But a noticeable abrasion on the minister’s face raised concerns among his colleagues about his health. At the pre-Cabinet meeting, which followed the committee hearing, Mr Noonan said he was in good health and joked he had time to read four books while hospitalised. “If there was something wrong with Noonan he would tell us,” a Cabinet source said.

Last Friday, he gave another strong performance when he appeared on international business television channel Bloomberg to discuss Brexit. He is also expected to appear at a jobs event in Limerick tomorrow.

Mr Noonan has experienced a number of health scares in recent years, including a five-week course of radiotherapy after a cancerous mole was removed from his shoulder in 2014. Last Christmas, he was admitted to hospital to have his lungs drained after a fluid build up on his chest required treatment. In January 2015, he received medical treatment for an eye condition and in 2007 he underwent a heart bypass.

But he has always bounced back from his medical conditions and he is widely attributed as playing a pivotal role in bringing the country back from financial ruin after the economic crash.

The prospect of Mr Noonan stepping down after October’s Budget has been raised privately within Fine Gael but last week ministers were insisting the 73-year-old politician has the strength and energy to play a key role in the Government for some time.

Ahead of the General Election, the Limerick TD said he hoped to continue as Finance Minister for two more budgets. He was reappointed by Mr Kenny following government negotiations, with Paschal Donohoe given the crucial Department of Public Expenditure and Reform portfolio.

In recent weeks, Mr Noonan has told Cabinet colleagues Mr Donohoe holds the purse strings in this Budget.

“He told us last week his bit of the Budget is only small and brief and Paschal is the man with the money to spend and he said it won’t take him long to spend it,” a senior minister said.

Sunday Independent

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